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Opinions of Monday, 24 May 2010

Columnist: GNA

Exploring the Growing Phenomenon of Single Parenthood in Accra

(A GNA Feature by National Service Personnel)

Accra, May 24, GNA- We live in a world where parenting is beginni ng to receive more focus and has become one of the major topics on talk sho ws, in the press and on the airwaves. Normally, parenthood revolves around th e child's biological father and mother, but often with emphasis on the role of the father in most cultures. Single parenthood, therefore, refers to the situation where only one parent is saddled with the responsible of a chil d's up bringing, be it the mother or father.

Single parenthood may occur for a variety of reasons. It could occur as a result of divorce, adoption, artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood, child neglect or abandonment by the absentee biological paren t. There are also "natural circumstances" where either the father or mother may die, leaving the child or children with the other surviving parent. Case s abound especially in African society in which valuable property left behi nd by a dead father which should be given to his next of kin (wife and children) but the immediate family members hijack the property, compellin g the mother to fend for herself and the children without any support.

Parenting is not by any means easy and it is important to know that one parent cannot fill the gap of both mother and father. Raising a child as a single parent can be challenging. In addition to taking care of home, the

parent might be working or schooling, and it is important to balance all these aspects of life. Unfortunately, the general trend in Ghana today i s that more parents continue to neglect their children, with fathers being the worst offenders. Sources at the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit of the Ghana Police Service in Accra indicate that between January and March

this year, 526 cases of child neglect were reported to the Unit, out of which 485 were females. This also goes to confirm the analysis of DOVVSU that more female children suffered neglect than male children. Both boys and girls deserve equal attention but this is what many men in traditional Ghanaian society still haven't come to terms with. The Children's Act (56 0) of 1998 states among other things that a parent or any other person who i s legally liable to maintain a child is under an obligation to supply the necessities of health, life, education and reasonable shelter for the chi ld. When parent separate one party usually takes custody of the children ..

In Ghanaian society in general following separation, a child ends up stay ing with the mother rather than the father. The relationship between children

and non-custodial fathers can be difficult and strained. Fathers often become disinterested and detached from their children. In one study more than sixty percent of fathers either did not visit their children or had no contact with them for over a year. The absence of a father in the family can have far-reaching implications, the most critical of which is the absence of constant financial support from the man to the family.

In mother-only families, children tend to experience short -and long-term economic and psychological disadvantages; higher absentee rates

which more boys are negatively affected than girls and more delinquent activity, including alcohol and drug addiction. Some children trained an d brought up by single parents sometimes harbor hatred and pain for the absentee parent. Children in single mother homes are also more likely to

experience health related problems as a result of the decline in their living standard, including lack of good nutrition and health insurance, among others.

In an interview with the GNA in Mamprobi section of Accra, Ms Rita Boateng, a teacher and single parent, says being a single parent has a lo t of difficulties. She is of the view that there is the need for both paren ts to train the child to enable that child to grow physically, spiritually, emotionally and become a responsible man or woman in the society. In her case, the husband died leaving her with 3 children to take care of and it

has not been easy ever since. Ms Boateng noted that in cases where the father is not around, the provision of basic needs becomes a major challe nge because women need to be helped by the man to keep a happy home. Miss Agnes Odartey, a trader at Tema station, told the GNA that her husband abandoned her with 2 children and left for Nigeria, compelling he r to take care of the children all by herself. She explained that initially

she was getting financial assistance from her late husband's family but after sometime they stopped supporting her. Mr Benjamin Adams, a level 4 00 student at the University of Ghana, Legon, recounts his experience being raised by a single mother. He said things did not move on well with the family but thanks be to God, he is now in the final year of the universit y. Mr Adams was of the view that since the mother is vulnerable it is the responsibility of the father to help give the children a proper upbringin g. The neglect/non-maintenance of children is the main cause of streetis m, child prostitution, child trafficking, indiscipline, and other social vic es in Ghanaian society. Children of single parents are more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse than children who live with both biological parents. According to a study conducted in the United States, children from a single parent background had a 77 per cent chance of bein g physically abused, 87 per cent risk of being harmed by neglect and over all 120 per cent risk of being endangered by some form of child abuse. Some of these children are sold out as labourers and house-helps, are over-worke d and barely get enough food to eat.

It must be said, however, that single parenthood is not all doom and

gloom but can be successful in cases where there is support from family, friends and neighbours, especially in times of need. Open communication channels, agreeable, supportive relationship with family and partners, having firm rules and standard for their children, have time to relax and

have optimistic attitudes about themselves and the future. Mothers have a n important role to play in promoting the involvement of the father in the life of the child. And it is equally important for parents not to involv e children in disputes

Whether together or separated, the father's role in the child's lif e is crucial. Discipline is the parent's moral obligation and it is prefera ble in most cases to have the father around for it to be effective. Even when

they have moved out of the home, the male partner needs to be encouraged to take part in sharing child-rearing responsibilities in the home; to spend

time alone with the child or children each week to build a strong and uni que bond and spend time in activities that make them keep the bond of communication healthy.

You may be a single parent, but you are definitely not alone. If you

have family members or friends who are willing to help, let them. If you don't have family members or friends who can help you, look for a support

group for single parents. You'll meet other people who are in similar situations. Participating in a support group gives you an opportunity to share your feelings and get advice. Remember that no matter your situatio n, the bottom-line is to create a happy home for the child or children. Even as a single parent you can still make all the difference in your children's lives by giving them lots of love. There is no substitute for love.